Monday, January 24, 2011

Gatekeepers, Key-Communicators, Bridge Personalities

In our new book The Idea Hunter, we argue that "conversations" are the basic building blocks of innovation, and that people who can span multiple idea-communities are essential in moving ideas from origin to delivery. There are rich studies about such personalities, that unfortunately span many different literatures; they have been called: Gatekeepers [Tom Allen of MIT originated this term]; Key Communicators [Al Rubenstein of Northwestern used this term]; and Boundary Spanners [perhaps a broader term that comes from Sociology and the Organizational Behavior literatures]; but in every instance their ability to span more than one culture makes them invaluable for recognizing and moving ideas fast. Fast Company magazine recently ran an article from the design studio Frog Design on what they call "Bridge Personalities" that adds yet another piece to the Boundary Spanner literature. What I particularly like about this article is that it recognizes that not everyone can become a boundary spanner, but it suggests that we can all work on becoming xenophiles, or people: "...who believe that we benefit commercially, creatively, charitably, or politically from encountering a wider world," and who then make explicit choices to put this belief into action.

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